Hi Anna, when and why did you decide to open Mon Pote?
I’ve always had a passion for interiors and I’m particularly inspired by the calmness and timelessness of Scandinavian homes. I set up Mon Pote as an online Scandinavian homewares shop in 2015, stocking a few very carefully chosen Scandinavian brands: Hubsch, House Doctor and Broste. There are lots of Scandinavian design brands out there, but these were the ones which spoke most to me personally and also which were willing to work with such a small shop!
To promote the website I began trading at local markets including the Tobacco Factory and Frome Independent and realised how much I enjoyed interacting with customers and how important it is to have that direct link with customers for feedback. A small unit came available on my local high street towards the end of 2015 and I jumped (after very careful consideration!) at the chance to take the lease. Unfortunately the landlady then decided to sell the shop instead of rent it to me and I had to wait to see if the new owner would take me as a tenant. She did, but only after the sale went through which took a few months. By then I was desperate to get open and had a carpenter waiting to do the fit out. We finally opened on 2 April 2016 – two weeks after I got the keys.
What had you done before? Did any of these skills help?
Completely different and totally unrelated! I have a law degree from Manchester University and a Post Grad Diploma in Intellectual Property Law form St Catherine’s College Oxford. I had practiced as a solicitor for eight years before opening the shop. Although it would be good to have some relevant experience in the day to day – maybe a retail, interiors or digital marketing background, I have been able to use my background to help negotiate the property leases, prepare website terms and conditions, staff contracts etc. All the boring but essential and potentially expensive stuff.
How did you decide on the name?
I used to advise businesses on branding (from a legal perspective) and the strongest trade marks are the nonsense terms which aren’t generic or descriptive. This is because they are least likely to be copied and most likely to stand out. Also, once your business becomes associated with your brand name, there is much less chance of it being confused with someone else’s business. You also don’t really want to limit yourself by describing your offering at the time or committing to a geographical location. I wanted to choose something unique that described the business ethos, but not the products or stock, without actually using descriptive words. Mon Pote is a colloquial French terms for my friend, a bit like saying “my mate” in English. The ethos behind Mon Pote is that it is a place where you feel welcomed and relaxed, like a good friend – Mon Pote. This ethos will always be true, even if the style or products change over the years.
How would you describe the interior style of the store?
I would describe the interior style of the first shop as having a Scandi boho vibe, a term I think was coined by one of my favourite bloggers of all time, Victoria Smith of SF Girl By Bay.
The walls were painted white and I used birch-ply shelving which is a very pale wood, to keep the interior fresh and minimal. We complemented the white walls and pale wood with greenery and have been selling plants ever since.
We moved to a larger shop in 2020 and although the overall impression is very light, fresh and airy with white walls, I used a darker walnut wood with an incredible grain, which feels more traditional and timeless as this is our forever home. The ceiling had been painted black in the building’s past life, which I changed to white and added a pale parquet floor. I also had four floor to ceiling archway alcoves built which are stunning. They are inspired by Mediterranean architectural archways and provide a beautiful backdrop for our Scandi-inspired interiors. We have a kitchen area where the previous occupant (a bakery) had their water and cutlery station where we style our ceramics and a terrazzo floor in this part of the shop. Tiles on the counters finish the look.
Scandi design is close to your heart – why do you think it’s become so popular?
So many reasons! Firstly, I love the way the Scandinavians see their homes as sanctuaries and really consider how to create a mindful space using neutrals and simple colours and natural materials. This leads to considered purchasing and avoids trends and throw away culture. In keeping with this and secondly, I believe that interiors should have longevity and that the Scandinavians do this best. So much of the furniture and accessories that have stood the test of time and are still loved today are Scandinavian in origin – particularly Danish.
Clean lines, attention to the details of woodgrain or a certain finish all are apparent in the Scandinavian design brands that we stock. I have been selling some of my product lines for over six years now and they are still popular which means that they will still be looking as beautiful in the homes of customers who bought them years ago and will stand the test of time and not be part of the throw away culture. Not all of our products come from Scandinavian brands but all of our products are selected for their quality, their timelessness and their sustainability.
Tell us about the range of products you stock…
The most important element of my business is my customers. The brands I stock are chosen because I believe that they give the customers the best quality and design at the most affordable prices. I don’t take for granted that customers choose to spend their hard earned money here and I want the absolute best for them. We are affordable and accessible without compromising on the aesthetic of the products, environment and shopping experience we create or the quality of products.
As well as some Scandinavian and Dutch homeware brands, I want to ensure that our offering is as unique as possible and also supports other independent makers. We stock a range of prints, skincare, jewellery and cards from independent designers, often one woman brands. This means that when you come here you should be seeing things that are not widely available which makes the whole experience more unique and interesting.
What does a ‘normal’ day look like?
I do the school run and then walk my dachshund, Teddy, before going home to grab breakfast and log on to pick up emails. I usually do some Instagram Stories at this point using our image bank saved in Dropbox which I can access from my phone. Generally one of my marketing colleagues will do some more current Instagram stories and videos a bit later too. The shop floor team are in at 9.30am to get ahead on picking mail order and to prepare the shop floor before the customers come in.
I head in around 10am and catch up with the shop floor team on any customer queries and expected deliveries. As well as serving customers and caring for the shop floor, each of the shop floor team has a particular responsibility: Ioan has responsibility for inventory management – planning to receive deliveries and processing them as they come in with support from colleagues; Liv covers our in house photography; and Anna L helps me with keeping on top of re-ordering, buying and merchandising. We process all of our own mail order too and the shop floor staff manage this between them.
We have colleagues, who work exclusively on marketing – content creation, planning the Insta grid, newsletters, Facebook and Google Ads and SEO. Part of my day involves ensuring that marketing are aware of what is new and coming up in the future, and informing our customers of what is happening in store, as well as planning content and website changes going forward.
I also spend as much time as I can on the shop floor – my happy place!
What items are your personal can’t-live-without?
I am currently loving the Hale Organics Apricot Glow facial oil – created a few streets away form here and perfect for a summer glow. I love jewellery and I’m usually dripping in about 3 necklaces, 4 or 5 rings and a few bracelets from our current jewellery collections. I love the Junk Jewels rings with their coloured stones.
What do you enjoy most about running Mon Pote?
The shop itself is just lovely. I cannot describe the joy of being on the shop floor, pottering about and chatting to the customers whether regulars or brand new. I love hearing the feedback from customers too. It’s always fun coming up with new ideas for displays and changing things around so breathe new life in. I really love working with the fabulous team who are also very happy in their jobs and look forward to coming to work. There’s a lot to get through in a day but we always seem to be laughing about something! I am starting to get so excited about Christmas – how are we going to decorate, all the Christmas orders are now in of course so it’s just time to pull everything together and prepare. We are continually seeking to improve our service and I’m excited to see how the new systems put in place after last Christmas will work out.
What has been your career highlight?
The shop has been featured in Elle Decoration a few times which I can’t really believe, as well as Conde Nast Traveller. Considering how much time I used to spend reading these magazines on trains going to and from London for work, it’s amazing to actually feature in them!
Mon Pote was one of the very first Shopkeeper Spotlight’s we featured back in 2016 – what has changed since?
Being featured by 91 Magazine as one of the first shopkeepers was such a highlight of that first year! I think the shop had been open for a few months and, as it had been opened so tentatively with zero shopkeeper experience, it did feel great to know that someone else thought it was worth a mention, especially a publication I admired and respected as much as 91.
Almost everything has changed since then bar the underlying ethos and the style of the shop which have always remained true. I moved the shop into our current much larger unit in 2020 mid pandemic. This was a move that had been planned since October 2019 but had been delayed by Covid. The larger space means that we have three large storage rooms on site, two offices and, more importantly, more square footage of shop floor space. I have retained most of my original 2016 suppliers such as HK Living, House Doctor, Bloomingville, Hubsch and Broste but have been able to stock more products from their ranges including more lighting and furniture items. Most importantly I have been able to curate these ranges against smaller, independent one woman-led brands such as Lima Lima jewellery, Stoff Studios prints, Natalia Bagniewsa, Hale Botanicals and Pepper You jewellery.
The ethos remains very much the same: expect a warm welcome, excellent and friendly customer service, a wider range of carefully curated products and new and exciting products each week.
What is the neighbourhood like around the new store? Do you have a community of independent stores around you?
North Street is a hub for independents. Other than a Tesco Metro and a Co-op (we all need them sometimes!) every single business along the street is independently owned. We have a butcher, green grocers, bakeries, delis, a cheese shop, book shop, record shop, ironmongers, cafes, coffee shops, pizza, zero waste shops, jewellery shop, a health shop, an upholsterer, several gift shops as well as hair dressers and beauticians.
What do you wish you’d known before opening Mon Pote? Any advice for those thinking about opening their own stores?
I don’t think there were any huge surprises. I guess just have a great POS system in place before you start selling with everything like stock accurately recorded and electronically counting down. It’s definitely worth the investment, particularly if you are selling across multi channels like online and in store.
The downside of owning a shop rather than an online shop is that you need to be there, unless you sell enough to make paying staff worthwhile. This is a huge commitment because your customers will want you there all weekend and part of the evening – is this something that you are able/want to do? Also, do you really want to sit in a shop day in, day out? When I first opened I was lucky enough to have part time staff straightaway. I also had two young children and my two year old would spend time in the shop with me, so I could juggle childcare and I wasn’t really going anywhere anyway because of the kids. Personally I love being with the customers so it wasn’t a problem for me, but it’s definitely a tie.
Read Anna’s interview with 91 Magazine’s editor, Caroline, on the Mon Pote blog.